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Mathematics in Australia – It all adds up

Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow, Nalini Joshi, discusses the opportunities for maths enthusiasts in Australia.

Australia is a unique place to study mathematics. Three elements combine to make it unique: its high-quality undergraduate degrees, the research intensity of our lecturers and the friendly, safe, multicultural environments of its beautiful cities that are lively yet also offer a relaxed lifestyle.

Our undergraduate degrees are internationally competitive and compare especially well against those in the UK and USA. I know this from personal experience; I studied an undergraduate degree in mathematics in Australia and went on to a PhD at an Ivy League university in the USA.

In Australia, undergraduate bachelor degrees fall into two categories: a three-year degree and a four-year honours degree, where the fourth year consists of concentrated courses and a research thesis. Australian honours graduates in mathematics are internationally recognised as ‘research-ready’.

Many honours mathematics graduates are immediately employed by companies that are looking for staff trained in analytical thinking. In general, mathematics and statistics graduates are in heavy demand in Australia and internationally, with very competitive starting salaries. Many such jobs requiring mathematical skills have position titles like Bioinformatician, Risk Analyst, Quantitative Analyst, Emerging Video Technologies Developer. Recent listings can be found at – www.austms.org.au

Mathematics can also be studied as part of a double-degree programme. There are excellent opportunities to combine the study of mathematics with other areas such as commerce, economics, IT, engineering, arts and law. Many cross-disciplinary areas, such as quantitative finance, mathematical biology and environmental modelling require majors in mathematics.

In pure mathematics, we have strong offerings in algebra (with application to secure communications, cryptography, combinatorics and information security), in analysis and partial differential equations (with applications in biology, optimal transport and physics) and in geometry (with applications in mathematical physics and computer imaging). In applied mathematics we have strong offerings in oceanography, meteorology, environmental modelling, mathematical biology, financial and actuarial mathematics, astrophysics and industrial modelling. There are also many courses in computational mathematics (numerical modelling) and simulation in a wide variety of areas. There are a number of specialist centres at our universities offering courses in operations research (optimisation) and its application in mining, manufacturing and health.

Part of what makes Australia so special in mathematics is that leading researchers are actively involved in teaching, keeping our courses up-to-date with the latest developments in the field. There is also a culture of individualised teaching in the later years of our mathematics degree programmes. Lecturers are very willing to talk to and engage with students who are interested in mathematics. The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute supports undergraduate mathematics students through summer schools. The Australian Mathematical Society offers student memberships and runs annual conferences, which work well to connect experienced and new researchers in mathematics.

Australian research in mathematics is at a very high level internationally and is growing. The Fields medal, which is like a Nobel Prize in mathematics and awarded every four years for the best research in mathematics worldwide by someone aged forty or younger, went to an Australian, Terry Tao, in

2006. Many world-leading mathematicians at international centres, like Terry, are Australians, whose first degree was awarded by an Australian university.

PhD scholarships are readily available in Australian universities for high performing honours graduates, including international students. The number of scholarships is expanding fast. In addition to the government scholarships (search for IPRS scholarships or ‘Endeavour awards’ on the web), many universities have supplementary awards that can be found through each individual university’s website.

Mathematics is an exciting area with great opportunities for careers and research. Australia offers an internationally recognised place for work and study in mathematics. So whether you are aiming for a career with a high salary or research that reaches the sky and beyond, aim for Australia!

Written by Professor Nalini Joshi
Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow
Chair of Applied Mathematics, University of Sydney

Read this next: Is Maths Your Number One? Why Study A Maths Degree

Is Maths Your Number One? Why Study A Maths Degree

They say that maths is a language itself, spoken only by those stimulated by problem-solving and entangled formulas, those who like a challenge and want to develop their logical thinking and analytical approach further on. Here’s why you should study for a maths degree and where it can take you in the future.

What do mathematicians go frantic about?

In general, maths is divided into maths, statistics and operational research, each area of study representing a big send-off for students looking to get a job in technical industries, financial services, management, computing and then some.

In a nutshell, maths is for enthusiasts about numbers, shapes, complex problems; statistics is steered by real-life problems and requires data examination; operational research (OR) is basically management science where graduates in the field analyse decision-making processes within multinational companies (usually).

How can you get your hands on a maths degree?

In most cases, if you have an academic background in mathematics (mechanics, complex numbers, pure maths) or any other scientific subjects, you will easily be eligible for a maths degree. If applying to study maths in the UK, for example, you might be asked to take the STEP exam (The Sixth Term Examination Process) or the AEA (The Advanced Extension Award), or even a language proficiency test (depending on the language you’ll be studying in).

Students with exceptional grades can be exempted from the first year of study and enter straight into the second year, which will allow them to graduate earlier than planned. However, having a few semesters of algebra and calculus up your sleeve is essential to chase a degree in mathematics.

What can a degree in Maths get you?

The three maths areas can be studied separately or as a joint degree with other subjects (such as physics, computer science, chemistry etc), and your studies can lead you to a Bachelor of Science (BSc) or of Arts (BA) in Mathematics. Various countries throughout the world will have other names for these degrees, but it will mean the same thing (you’ll find the term “Bachelor of Mathematics” – BMath, used by universities in Australia, Russia, the US, the Philippines, or even “Mathematical Tripos” – used by the University of Cambridge, UK). If interested in studying maths in Australia, read how Nalini Joshi, Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow, discusses the opportunities for maths aficionados in AustraliaAfter 3-4 years of studying for a Bachelors maths degree, you can seek a career in accountancy and finance (as a forensic accountant, auditor, advisor), banking, actuarial, the civil service or statistician industries. And you can always turn to an academic career. Engineering and meteorology careers aren’t that too out of range for you if you have a maths degree.

The skills you’ll end up developing after years of learning maths are unmatched, and employers will soon see the value in your talent: you will know how to turn real-life problems into math problems, how to analyse data, carve conclusions, deal with abstract concepts, feel confident to give logical arguments and solve complex problems. 

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